Making Quieter PCs

PC noise levels is a topic that I hear about on Direct2Dell from time to time. Silent/Quiet Computers: Sound levels in decibels from user pchris has been a popular idea  on IdeaStorm since the day after it launched in February. Recently it’s gotten some traffic in the media as well. IBM and HP have an ongoing squabble on the server side. The New York Times  recently approached it from a consumer angle.

Seemed like a good time to provide some Dell perspective. To do that, I chatted with Jeff Demoss, one of our acoustical engineers on our business client products team for some insight. Couple of things he made clear:

  • Making a PC quieter is a balancing act. Anyone can make a product quieter by removing fans at the expense of reliability. There are lots of key factors that come into play: performance, mechanical design, thermal issues and reliability are a few of them. Of course, overall system design is key as well. Design materials matter-even the rubber feet on a system can impact the amount of noise a system emits.

  • Overall noise levels are important, but so is sound quality. What does sound quality mean? A sound doesn’t have to be loud to be annoying. Cutting down on the annoyance factor can be more important than reducing noise level in a lot of cases.

I’ll save discussions around thermals, reliability and performance for future posts and just focus on acoustics today. Lots of customers tend to think of overall noise level.  While that’s definitely important, and we design our products to adhere to global acoustic standards, there are certain types of noises-rattles, modulations or tones-that aren’t acceptable at any level.  Overall, Dell tries to focus on both noise levels and sound quality.

PCs need to be quiet because they aren’t just PCs anymore. Today, they  are increasingly becoming multimedia hubs that fulfill any number of roles in a household. Using a noisy system in a dorm room, apartment, or even a dedicated room in a house diminishes the experience.

Jeff told me he’s part of the team that looks at acoustics from a business client system perspective. We also have teams that work on larger products like our servers. On the consumer side, we’re already implementing many of these improvements on some of our XPS notebooks and desktops and we’ll look to do more of that in the future. We have engineers in many of our global design centers who contribute to these efforts. 

So what have we done up to this point? In the design phase, we try to think about how a customer will use a product (will the desktop system be used under a desk or on top of one for example). We also think about materials and components we can use to dampen noise levels, such as solid state drives. From a technology perspective, many of our products utilize ambient temperature sensors  along with algorithms that precisely control fan speeds to optimize thermal and acoustic performance. When possible, we try to use larger fans since they can cool more efficiently at lower noise levels. We test our systems and many components in our acoustics lab that’s located here in our Austin campus to help us meet and exceed worldwide regulatory requirements. 

PC acoustics are a broad topic that affects any number of products we sell. Moving forward, I’ll work to get members of our acoustics engineering teams to weigh in on Direct2Dell, and will set up a vlog or two to introduce you to some of the folks doing the work and give  you a look into their labs.

About the Author: Lionel Menchaca